Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pro5nostications

Al over at "Beyond the Black Gate" is musing about what 5e will look like. I'm in agreement with sinclair’s opinions stated in the comments. Hasbro will license the table-top game to a 3rd party (won't be Paizo, since that would mean killing the Pathfinder goose which lays for them golden eggs) while retaining the "all-important" IP (which nobody has managed to monetize successfully). Some time afterwards, they'll possibly take another stab at licensing computer games.

Exactly what form fifth edition will take after that will heavily depend on who picks the game up. However, this hobby is chock full of "lessons learned" from the past. Most of this conventional wisdom is a load of hokum. Remember when everybody knew that boxed sets had killed TSR? The current conventional wisdom is likely just as accurate, and just as firmly believed.

So, in spite of the company that wins the rights to the pen-and-paper version of D&D quite probably having gotten their start as an OGL d20 company, they will probably adhere to the belief that a glut of substandard third-party material killed 3.0. Whatever licensing agreement we do see will likely fall somewhere between the OGL and its ugly 4e sibling. We'll also likely see stronger adherence to the traditional assumed setting of the game; the Gygaxian Great Wheel of the cosmos will return, as will the nine-fold alignment system and things like that.

We'll also almost certainly see the threefold hardback core of the game be continued. After that, though, things get interesting. I think everybody has just about realized that continuously publishing new core books is just splatbooks on steroids. Your game becomes unplayable a lot more quickly and players stop bothering to keep up. Still, it appears you can get a three-or-four-year good run on this model. If that's all you're interested in, then you’re golden.

What are the other options? WotC attempted an online subscription model. It didn't work, but that's in large part because they fumbled the launch. However, that strategy requires skills and knowledge that most gaming companies don't possess. Whoever wins the license won't have the resources of Hasbro and will likely be looking for a much cheaper strategy. (Unless it’s White Wolf. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.)

I suspect that what we will see will steal a page from Paizo's success. We’ll have our core three books, one or two splatbooks a year, and something that looks an awful lot like the monthly Pathfinder product. It may be a bit more magazine and a bit less adventure module, but it will likely combine the successful formula of serial adventures, serial fiction, new monsters every issue, and high production values.

That being the case, we can expect the new rules to emphasize “long-term” play with characters advancing a level every two sessions or so, getting something new every level to play with, and campaigns lasting roughly a year. One-off play will likely be discouraged and it's doubtful we'll see any sort of organized play.

Likewise, I see the use of miniatures being downplayed. That business model hasn't flown for anybody yet. With it will vanish nearly all the positioning mechanics of 4E. Combat will be extremely abstract and simple. I suspect that we won’t see 4e’s exceptions-based rules, either. The result will look a lot more like 3e, but probably even simpler than that, with a stronger emphasis on combat and streamlined statblocks that don’t eat an entire page.

Unfortunately, I'm not expecting anything revolutionary. The game will continue to focus on combat, it will continue to use hit points and armor class will continue to be about how hard it is to hit. The game will continue to use classes and the core is likely to drop the Dragonborn race. Balance will be based on the set-piece combat encounter, and every class will be mappable with MMOG standards of class design. You'll still earn most of your experience points from killing things. In spite of this, I expect lots of appeals towards old-school nostalgia.

7 comments:

Stuart said...

Or they could just make boardgames...

Anonymous said...

Call me crazy, but I don't want to see anything revolutionary. I hate that they keep designing and replacing games with the D&D label slapped on them, muddying the waters, instead of having this timeless classic in print and a different name for those other games.

lemuriapress said...

I really, really, really don't think they will license out the tabletop RPG element. Like _really_ don't think they will do this.

trollsmyth said...

Stuart: We should be so lucky. ;)

Anonymous: When I "play D&D" these days, it's an unholy amalgamation of Labyrinth Lord, Moldvay/Cook, 1e, 2e, and LotFP. What I've got does the job for me, and if I need anything else, I'm likely to make it myself. I'd rather they did something original and cool and I could steal from, since I won't be playing it wholesale no matter what they call it.

lemuriapress: Well, you know the industry far better than I do. Though now I'm horribly curious what makes you think that thunk.

lemuriapress said...

Working there for years, understanding their corporate culture, understanding what makes some of these decision-makers tick, etc.

I'm curious what you take from LotFP in your unholy amalgam game. Could you elaborate? I have a few of James's adventures and supplements, but how is the game different from standard D&D?

trollsmyth said...

lemuriapress: Working there for years, understanding their corporate culture, understanding what makes some of these decision-makers tick, etc.

Ah. In that case, double-down on online subscription service?

I'm curious what you take from LotFP in your unholy amalgam game. Could you elaborate?

Sure. Primarily, it's his encumbrance system. It's a thing of simplified beauty, based heavily on similar designs being kicked around the intrawebs. Ditto for his skills system. I use both behind-the-screen as needed, but I think they'll be front-and-center in my next campaign, as will his only-fighters-improve-their-to-hit advancement mechanic. Or, at least, slow everybody else down.

(You can get a just-the-rules pdf here.)

I'll also eventually be sneaking a few of his spells into the game as well.

Beyond that, I use monsters from the 1e and 2e monster books, the equipment lists from Al Qadim, Shields Shall be Splintered, my Table of Death & Dismemberment, and my list of secondary powers and residual effects for memorized spells.

It's a lovely mish-mash, but it feels like D&D to me.

trollsmyth said...

lemuriapress: To go into a bit more detail, check out the LotFP character sheet (link opens a pdf).

Equipment's on page 2. Basically, you start with your weapons and armour. After that, encumbering items are listed in the column, and you add +1 to your encumbrance score as you move along. How much is too much depends on what you want to do, and some classes care about it more than others. Dwarves, for example, get a bonus on how much they can lug around.

On page one, you can see the skills system. Basically, everyone has a 1-in-6 chance to do most things. I think elves still get a 2-in-6 to find secret doors. There's no thief class, but there is a Specialist, and he gets extra "pips" to fill in on those d6 diagrams. You could go the traditional thief route, and load up on climbing, sleight-of-hand, or tinkering (which allows you to find and disable traps among other things). Or you could go with languages and architecture and make your Specialist more a sage-type.

Beyond that, he's got a few neat tweaks (elves are held at bay by clerical magic, for instance) and flourishes (rewriting all the spells to make them more "weird"). But if you're familiar at all with any pre-3e version of D&D, it'll look very familiar to you.